Before I got married, I never considered purity or how my choices in the moment could affect me and my future relationships. As a result, I stood at the altar, excited to unite my heart with the man I loved but carrying with me a load of shame and regret. If I had it to do over, I would’ve been more contemplative and intentional regarding my behavior.
If you’ve been dating for any length of time, you’ve likely wrestled with questions related to purity: What’s allowed and what isn’t, when have you “gone too far”, and how can you know where that unclear and unstated boundary lies?
Most of us understand God’s commands regarding sex, but what about the acts that may lead to it? Are they forbidden? Is it okay to kiss, and if so, at what point? Is one type (a simple peck on the cheek, a brush of lips against lips) purer than another, and how can we know for certain?
Unfortunately, Scripture doesn’t clearly address these questions. But that doesn’t mean we must languish in confusion or uncertainty. Rather, whenever we encounter a “gray” area, we’re provided an opportunity to draw closer to God as we seek His heart.
Here are 10 biblical strategies for building a relationship aligned with God’s perfect will.
1. Guard your heart.
Scripture tells us our hearts are deceptive. We can easily convince ourselves that wrong is right and right is wrong. This occurs often when married couples leave their spouse for someone else, claiming God wants them “to be happy.” When emotions and hormones become entangled in our choices, our thoughts and attitudes often follow.
The heart, in ancient Hebrew, refers to a person’s core being. It’s one’s moral compass and the seat of their will and intellect, and it’s easily swayed. Every interaction either strengthens or weakens us spiritually. Moreover, what we feed often grows. This means the more we watch sensual material and engage sensual thoughts, the harder it will be to remain pure.
This is why Scripture urges us to “keep [our] heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
2. Recognize your weakness.
Temptation often hits when we least expect it. We’ve all likely heard stories of men and women who intended to stay pure until marriage but found themselves in a situation where their sexual desire, momentarily, overrode their resolve.
Few intend to sin but honoring Christ takes more than good intentions. It takes forethought and determination. When my daughter was a teen and we discussed relational issues, I reminded her, “The longer you stare at a cookie, the more you’ll want it.” In other words, if we want to stay strong, we have to be alert to temptations, avoid them when possible, and create guardrails when necessary.
By staying alert to our weaknesses and guarding against them, we can avoid “oopsies” we’ll regret for years. That doesn’t mean we should bar ourselves from the opposite sex, but it does mean we should be intentional regarding our interactions.
3. Love your partner well.
1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us true love always protects—in all things, purity included. A man who truly loves a woman will be focused first and foremost on her spiritual good. A woman who truly loves a man will do the same. Both will resist selfish urges to find pleasure in the moment, choosing instead to help their partner grow closer to Christ.
Lust isn’t love, and sex outside marriage isn’t God’s best for you, your partner, or your relationship. Whenever we put our longings above God’s will, we distance ourselves from Him. When we entice our partner to do the same, we hinder their relationship with Christ as well.
Therefore, when considering where to set boundaries and when, we must always ask, “In this situation, how can I love my partner well? How can I point my partner to God’s best?”
4. Seek God’s will.
Most of us like clear instructions. And though God gives us plenty throughout Scripture, He’s chosen to leave some things vague. Perhaps because in our search for answers we draw closer to Him. He’s providing us with a priceless opportunity in the middle of our ambiguity—increased intimacy with Himself. That gift, if accepted, will strengthen us against temptation, bring clarity to our confusion, and make us into the men and women our partners need most.
As we draw close to God for guidance, He teaches us precisely how we can love our partner well in all areas, including those related to physical attraction. His responsibility is to teach, grow, and guide us. Ours is to listen and obey. When we do that, we can rest assured that we’re living in His perfect will at every moment and that our relationship is pleasing to Him.
5. Examine how your behavior lines up with God’s definition of love.
Many times, couples will say that their love for a person stirs their desire or motivates a certain action. Though most of us long to love our partners well, because of selfishness and other sinful attitudes, we sometimes fail. Often, our “acts of love” are self-serving rather than sacrificial. Because our hearts tend to be deceptive, we need to continually check our thoughts and emotions against our only sure basis of truth—Scripture.
In 1 Corinthian 13:4-8, God gives us a thorough definition for love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered … It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Before engaging in an activity, we should check our motives and our hearts against how God commands us to love one another.
6. Look ahead.
Our choices in the moment may not seem all that consequential, but our actions rarely culminate in isolated events. Many times, one action leads to another, if not immediately then in the relatively near future. Therefore, before allowing a particular act, we should ask ourselves, “If we engage in this behavior today, will it escalate as time goes on, and if so, how quickly?”
This speaks to being intentional with our actions, honestly evaluating our feelings, and prayerfully considering how our actions today could impact our purity tomorrow.
7. Talk to your partner.
Honest, open communication is important in all aspects of a relationship. Through dialogue, we may learn we have different views regarding a particular behavior. The goal isn’t to force our perspective on our boyfriend or girlfriend but instead to understand their concerns and seek a Christ-honoring, trust-building, and integrity-elevating course of action.
If we’re uncomfortable broaching a subject, then we likely have deeper concerns. This could indicate we’re feeling pressure in an area or that we’re not all that close to our partner. Focusing on the physical when the emotional components aren’t built and protected is risky. Recognizing and addressing this symptom of relational weakness, however, can lead to increased health and growth.
8. Protect each other’s thoughts.
All intentional sin begins in the mind and often starts with a seemingly harmless thought that bleeds into another and another until we find ourselves where we’d never intended to be. Thoughts also have the power to ignite or diminish desire. Perhaps this is, in part, why Scripture tells us to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)
This is not only important for us, but for our partners as well. We need to be alert to how certain behaviors might trigger unwholesome thoughts for them. This points back to loving them well. Romans 14:13 tells us to “decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother [or sister]”. In other words, though we’re not responsible for someone else’s actions, we are to be considerate of their struggles and how our behavior may affect them. And they are to do the same for us.
9. Assume someone is watching.
Would you engage in the activity in front of your parents or grandparents? Though this question alone likely can’t determine a definite course of action, it can help clarify the issue. Honestly evaluating our answer, specifically the why, can help us cut through some of the confusion we may feel about certain topics and behaviors.
They say integrity is doing what we know to be right, even when others aren’t watching. Pausing to consider our response and behavior as if someone were indeed watching can help us discern truth versus personal deception and separate selfishness from integrity.
10. Examine things objectively.
Imagine being asked to speak truth into a young life, someone you care deeply for and who holds your opinion in high regard. How would you direct them on this issue? What types of questions and concerns would you encourage them to consider? Have you yourself contemplated those same things?
Evaluating how we might respond to others in the same situation helps us gain the emotional distance necessary to assess the situation more objectively. This, in turn, can elevate our wisdom above our tendency to self-deceive.
Dating as a Christian can be frustrating and confusing. Most of us long to build health and emotional intimacy into our long-term relationships, and to do so in a way that pleases God. But instead of allowing the ambiguity often involved with purity to discourage us, we should celebrate it as an opportunity to grow closer to God and our partner. We can do both whenever we dialogue openly and lovingly with one another and honestly seek God’s heart. These two pursuits will have the longest-lasting effects on our character and our relationship with God and our partner.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer, editor, and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s a hybrid author with five traditionally published titles, two independently released, an eighth novel scheduled to release in April and her ninth in September. She also helped write Wholly Loved Ministries Bible study titled Becoming His Princess, (available in ebook form for FREE HERE!) based on the life of Sarah from the Old Testament, and maintains a devotional blog found at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.comand on her Crosswalk-hosted blog found HERE. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team partner with churches to facilitate events designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event. Sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE to stay up to date with her future appearances, projects, and releases.
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